YIDFF 2023 New Asian Currents

Journey of a Bird
Anonymous (Director)

Interviewer: Kawamoto Kanae

From video recordings to a documentary film

Kawamoto Kanae (KK): How did you get into filmmaking?

Director: I was just an ordinary student. The university held a film contest to which I submitted a comedy film that I made. When the film was screened, the audience cracked up at my humor as I expected and I got goosebumps. I thought I was cut out for filmmaking and I liked it.

KK: As with this film, do you like fun things?

Director: I like comedies. People can be upset when a sad, serious thing is turned into a comedy, which I find interesting.

KK: Have you made any films before this one?

Director: There are a lot of films in which I have been involved so far, including unfinished works and films I publish on social media. I work in a variety of genres, except action movies. My favorite is an LGBT girls’ romance. It’s on YouTube, so I did not submit it to any film festivals.

KK: Originally, Journey of a Bird was not conceived as a film, but you were just taking videos. What prompted you to make them into a film?

Director: Before the coup I was preparing for a feature. But a problem occurred and I was at a loss. Still I continued to take videos with my camera and saved them as I thought they might be of some use. A friend of mine found my saved footage and said to me, “Why don’t you make a documentary with this footage?” Then I said, “Why not, if you could write a script for it?” We spent a lot of time together editing the footage based on the script my friend wrote. We also filmed additional footage. This and other materials were used to make this documentary.

KK: How long did it take to make this documentary, including the period in which you took and saved videos?

Director: I took and saved videos for about seven months. In order to make a documentary, I saw the footage again by date. I selected shots, saying “I can use this, I can’t use that”. It took me another seven months to finish editing. All in all, it took me one and a half years to complete it.

At first, I tried to edit it by recalling documentaries that I had seen in the past and I showed it to other filmmakers, who said, “This is not a documentary film and you should see more documentaries.” So, I saw quite a few documentaries, most of which were about the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong. I was especially inspired by an Indian film titled Cowboys in India (2009), which I used as a reference. Another impressive film, whose title escapes me, was about an American college girl who went to North Korea to study filmmaking. or that’s how I remember it. These two films combine a comedy with a tragedy in which sadness imperceptibly turns into joy as the story unfolds.

KK: A comedy within a tragedy is similar to Journey of a Bird, isn’t it? Are there any other films that inspired you?

Director: No. There is no other film which I drew on. Some of the sound used in my film includes the sound of a gun going off in a Tarantino film and Cowboys in India. Both films use similar sounds, which were eventually reflected in my documentary, I guess.

KK: What was in your mind when you were making Journey of a Bird? What kinds of things did you pay attention to?

Director: When I started the shoot, I did not think about filming myself. Rather, I filmed people joining protests or firing guns. The scenes in which the camera was trained on us were filmed while we were just messing around. When I actually started to edit the film, I ended up using a lot of footage I filmed and my images shot by my friends. In the beginning my friends were there, each of whom filmed in turn, and since they filmed me most there ended up being more scences of me. The earlier versions had more scenes about the current situation of Myanmar but the focus gradually shifted from Myanmar’s state of affairs to weaving our own stories.

Unfilmed magic moments

KK: As you said, at first you were fooling around with your friends and took videos for fun. Are there any memorable moments during the shoot? What was the funniest moment or the hardest?

Director: As the funniest memory from the shoot—at that time I lived with my buddies. Lots of stuff was scattered on the floor. Now, I used to put a camera in a bag which I wore in front of me to film. I just picked up the bag–it was on the floor and turned out to belong to a friend of mine–and made a hole in it. On top of it the bag was very important to him as it was a gift from his girlfriend. He was furious. To make it worse, I made too big a hole in it and it burst in half. Since there was no other choice I shot a demonstration with the torn bag. In the beginning it was relatively easy to shoot in the crowd, but eventually it got more difficult to film when I showed my camera. Nobody trusted me when I had a camera to shoot them. Sometimes they shouted at me asking why was I filming them and we ran into trouble. But what is more regrettable is that when we had fun, we failed to shoot such magic moments because we forgot to bring a camera, we ran out of batteries, or no SD card was in the camera. We couldn’t film those moments.

KK: Could you tell me specific scenes that you couldn’t film?

Director: There are a host of such scenes. One of them was about the water festival celebrating the New Year in Myanmar. It was in April 2021. One of my buddies was playing music for the festival. While listening to that music, another suddenly burst into tears, losing hope that our resistance would end. I wanted to shoot them but I realized that my camera’s battery had died out. “Why didn’t you charge the battery?” I complained. He then told me that he didn’t charge it because he knew I was going to shoot him. Had I been able to film the moment with my camera, I could have made a more realistic documentary. I can’t help but feel frustrated (laughs).

Since February 3, I shared my house with my friends to make this documentary. On February 14, on Valentine’s Day, I opened a bottle of Chinese wine which I had kept for that occasion and we started to drink. The wine was strong and a few sips made us drunk. On that day, a friend of mine decided to ask out the girl on the phone who wrote the script. We left him alone to let him call her. We waited, waited and waited for his reaction but to no avail. In the meantime she called us, asking us to look after him. When we returned to where he was, we found him drunk and passed out on the floor. I couldn’t shoot the scene where he asked her out, either.

Transforming hardships

KK: What is the title of the piece used in the end credits, which I’ve heard you yourselves composed?

Director: I’m going to tell you why I wanted to use that piece. Initially, I used free material. When I saw the saved footage again, one of my buddies was singing in a scene, which covers an entire song from beginning to end. In the scene he was singing, remembering and being nostalgic about the time when we goofed around and had a lot of fun. I had already decided on the film’s title, Journey of a Bird and the song’s lyrics happened to refer to a bird. It may be just a coincidence. In any case that’s why I decided to use this song at the end. Its title is “We Slept Drunk After a Crazy Party.”

KK: I believe that cinema is very important to you. Are there any other things that are important to you, besides cinema?

Director: As I make films, cinema is of course important. Having said this, I guess my life or myself is also important, apart from cinema. At the end of the day I must somehow survive. As a filmmaker I, of course, enjoy myself most and I am most relaxed when I’m filming. But even without cinema I think I should be able to live and enjoy my life.

KK: This film depicts Myanmar, which I like. People in Myanmar love jokes, singing songs and a light and happy atmosphere. They are well portrayed in your film. What do you think are great things about them?

Director: It may be rather difficult to describe them from a similar perspective to yours; if I say they are great because of such and such, they immediately disagree with me; such is their nature. Even in times like this, in painful and hard times, they are great because they transform hardships into fun. This may coincide with the approach that I chose for my film.

Compiled by Ono Seiko
Translated by Yamamoto Kumiko

Photography, Video: Sato Hiroaki / Interpreter: Hosokawa Takanori / 2023-10-10

Kawamoto Kanae
Researcher in Buddhist studies and religious anthropology. At present, she is a JSPS postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, The University of Tokyo. She received her second BA from International Theravada Buddhist Missionary in Myanmar, where she was ordained as a Buddhist nun, and then her master’s from Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University in Thailand. Her research focuses on the real life practice of Buddhism in Southeast Asia.